Cancer of the cervix usually grows slowly over a period of time. Before cancer cells are found on the cervix, the tissue of the cervix go through changes in which cells that are not normal begin to appear (know as dysplasia). A Pap smear will usually find these cells. Later, cancer cell start to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and to surrounding areas.
The name given to the abnormal cells occurring in the cervix which are not cancerous but may lead to cancer is CIN (cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia). Some doctors call these changes precancer, meaning cells, which have the potential to develop into cancer if left untreated.
Colposcopy is the widely used method to check the cervix for abnormal areas. The doctor applies a vinegar-like solution to the cervix and then uses an instrument much like a microscope (called a colposcope) to look closely at the cervix. The doctor may then coat with an iodine solution (this procedure is called the Schiller test). Healthy cells turn brown; abnormal cells turn white or yellow. These are simple procedures can be done in doctor's office.
The doctor may remove a small amount of cervical tissue for examination by a pathologist. This procedure is called a biopsy.
The doctor also may want to check inside the opening of the cervix, an area that cannot be seen during colposcopy. In a procedure called endocervical curettage (ECC), the doctor uses a curette (a small, spoon-shaped instrument) to scrape tissue from inside the cervical opening.
These tests may not show for sure whether the abnormal cells are present only on the surface of the cervix. In that case, the doctor will then remove a larger, cone-shaped sample of tissue. This procedure, called conization or cone biopsy, allows the pathologist to see whether the abnormal cells have invaded tissue beneath the surface of the cervix. This procedure requires either local or general anesthesia and may be done in the doctor's office or in the hospital.
Radiotherapy to the pelvis can cause the vagina to become narrower and this can make sex difficult or uncomfortable. The key to overcoming this problem is to keep the muscles in the vagina as supple as possible.
If you have had a hysterectomy and your ovaries have also been removed, or if you have had radiotherapy to the pelvis, you will experience menopause symptoms (if you have not yet had menopause). These can include hot flushes, dry skin, dryness of the vagina, and possibly feeling low, anxious or less interested in sex for a time. Many of these symptoms can be eased by hormone creams or tablets, prescribed by your doctor, which replace the hormones that would have been produced by the ovaries.
Additional information about treatment of cervical cancer can be found on the Intervention and treatment page of Marleni Figueroa.
Also general information about cervical cancer on Understanding
Cancer of the Cervix page.
2. Jones CJ, Brinton LA, Hamman RF: Risk factor of cervical cancer: results from a case-control study. Cancer Research 50(12): 3657-3662, 1990.
3. National Cancer Institute (NCI): What you need to know about cancer of the cervix, Booklet 1-19, 1994.
|This web page was developed by Evelyn B. Cairo to fulfill a requirement of the class CHI 21: Health Issues in the Chicano/Latino Community taught by Seline Szkupinski Quiroga in the Chicana & Chicano Studies Program at the University of California at Davis, Fall 1998.|